Attorney for Columbia County worked on closing for Magnolia Trace property

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A Columbia County official confirmed Friday that the county’s attorney also acted as the closing attorney for Martinez land on which an affordable housing development is under construction.

Facebook group “Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project” posted Thursday that Columbia County attorney Doug Batchelor worked on the deal to close the sale of the property on Old Ferry Road. It didn’t specify whether Batchelor worked for the seller or buyer.

“As far as I know, (Batchelor) did the land closing,” county Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “I don’t know who he was working for.”

A message left Friday afternoon on Batchelor’s cellphone wasn’t returned.

County commissioners voted about five weeks ago to hire an outside attorney to seek a means to “interrupt” construction of the 15-acre development featuring 50 single-family rental homes. Later, Savannah lawyer Patrick T. O’Connor wrote to officials that they had no legal recourse to stop the project.

Commissioners endorsed Magnolia Trace with a June 2010 resolution on behalf of developer Affordable Equity Partners and sent to the state Department of Community Affairs. The Missouri-based company was seeking tax credits from the DCA to build the low-cost rental homes.

At that Dec. 6 meeting, in which hundreds of angry residents protested the commission’s endorsement of the project, Batchelor offered a lengthy description of the resolution and the county’s involvement with the property.

However, at no time during his speech did Batchelor say that he or his law firm, Hull Barrett, had a professional stake in the property.

“I don’t think it’s unusual for him to close land transactions that may or may not have some kind of connection to the county,” Cross said of Batchelor’s involvement. “People are just trying to put something out there when there is nothing really there. If he performed a service and got paid for it, I think that’s fine.”

Batchelor isn’t contracted by the county, Administrator Scott Johnson said. Instead, he is “engaged” by the county, earning $142.40 per hour for his services.

From 2008 to 2011, Hull Barrett earned about $830,000 paid from the county’s general fund. Johnson said Friday that he didn’t immediately have access to how much Batchelor and his firm might have earned from other county funds.

“Batchelor’s firm handles everything legally that can be handled,” Cross said. “That’s why we use them, because they’re a full-service firm. He does all of our real estate stuff.”

Also, Cross said, Hull Barrett’s rates are low compared with other firms of similar size.

Cross said theories about Magnolia Trace and county officials are unfounded.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” he said.

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Little Lamb
49247
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Little Lamb 01/14/12 - 11:27 pm
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Sorry, Dekebot, but I

Sorry, Dekebot, but I disagree. Doug Bachelor is not an employee of county government. He is a private attorney with several clients. Doing a real estate closing between a private citizen property owner and a real estate development company is routine business and there is no conflict of interest.

If you want to look for a scandal in Columbia County, look into the shameful re-zoning they did on the Mullins Crossing Phase II property. They are zoning it residential instead of the proper zoning of commercial. The Mullins "family" are getting a scandalously low property tax bill for 2011 and 2012.

Dipshot
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Dipshot 01/15/12 - 11:56 am
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The fact his he should have

The fact his he should have divulged his interest in the Magnolia Trace development and recused himself from any negotiations with the county regarding this devt.. he never did that. In fact, it appears he was one of the primary agents steering Magnolia Trace into the county. Remember back from the 2010 commission meeting where Ron Cross references a meeting he and Trey Allen had with Doug Batchelor in his office where they all agreed that this would be good for the county? Who called that meeting? Was it Mr Batchelor? Seems to me the county should have been made aware that he was working for both sides.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 12:05 pm
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Dipshot, I was at that

Dipshot, I was at that meeting and Batchelor sure had a poker face like he knew nothing and it was all out of his hands. Ha.

Slice of Justice
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Slice of Justice 01/17/12 - 04:11 pm
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These are the FACTS: If a

These are the FACTS:

If a firm has a client interested in purchasing property from the County- there is nothing unethical about the County Attorney being the closing agent. Everything is recorded and above board, any fee collected is for the service provided (the closing). The government (local or state) has no right to tell you what to do with your property or what to build as long as the area is zoned for that purpose. Those that are "pushing" for this to stop are basically wanting the government to choose what you can and cannot build. Last time I checked it was the USA. Those that feel that the government has the right to tell you what you can do to your property, even if it is zoned accordingly and private property, perhaps need to live outside the boundaries of the USA.

The developers of Magnolia Trace are spending 190k per residence to build each one, which is no shack. They are also going to be maintaining the property and homes. There is a Clubhouse and playground. There is a $40k maximum annual income cap- which is NOT low income. Most white collar (secretaries, clerks, etc.) and blue collar workers (cops, FF, etc.) make this much or less. There is a credit check and criminal background check on all prospective residents.

I am disturbed by the ignorant "racial undertones" in the postings. "Those people" are our relatives, former co-workers and friends who have lost their homes and jobs due to the economic climate. They are unemployed or under-employed through no fault of their own and are struggling to keep their self-respect and dignity intact. Instead of offering your hand- you are giving them the finger.

The comparison of Cherry Hill or Westwood Apt. complexes to this single family residence is a poor analogy at best. Comparing apratment complexes to homes that cost $190k to build each, really? As far as "lowering property values" in the adjacent neighborhoods- is ridiculous- the subdivision is a rental property not purchase/sale property and would not be included in the "comparative sales".

Now that the facts have been disclosed- you can choose to ignore the FACTS or continue to waller in the hysteria riddled with misprepresentations. I'd be more inclined to be angry that my peacefulness was purposely stomped on based on the hysterial misrepresentations, conspiracy theories and untruths of someone who isn't interested in facts, just the attention.

Live and Let Live.

CobaltGeorge
176821
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CobaltGeorge 01/17/12 - 04:11 pm
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Slice of Justice, I copied

Slice of Justice, I copied you post, so lets debate your comment in a Year from now. The future will tell who is right or wrong.........

Slice of Justice
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Slice of Justice 01/17/12 - 04:52 pm
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Its not "right or wrong"- its

Its not "right or wrong"- its fact or myth. Your choice to believe whatever moves you.

Riverman1
94246
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Riverman1 01/17/12 - 05:12 pm
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Slice of Justice, glad to see

Slice of Justice, glad to see you created a name to take up for Magnolia Trace and take up for Doug Batchelor. You say there's nothing the county can do to keep out unwanted things? Wrong.

The number of apartments have been limited to specific areas of the county and no more areas will be approved. So if you buy land out in the county and attempt to build apartments you will be stopped. The reason the county uses is growth is only wanted in certain areas to prevent the infrastructure from becoming strained.

If you think it's such a great idea for people to be given housing based on a limited income why don't we raise the income level? Make it $80, 000 and give more people affordable housing? $100,000?

Why is it important that we should have known about the Batchelor connection with the Magnolia Trace Co.? Because this company came into Georgia and had the tax laws changed to make this type project possible. They gave money to Nathan Deal and Ben Harbin. Then they chose to build in Columbia County.

A private meeting was held with the company operatives, Cross and Allen. All these hidden connections don't make the public feel served in any way. Now another one is added with the county attorney representing Magnolia Trace at the closing, yet, sitting before that famous Commission meeting slyly taking up for them even to the point of misrepresenting how many houses would be built.

The honest thing for him to have done would have been to disclose his involvement and recuse himself from acting as the county attorney at the meeting.

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